The chemotherapeutic agent methotrexate is widely used in tumor therapy for different forms of leukemia and for the therapy of arthritis. Methotrexate is eliminated from systemic blood circulation by the liver and its transport into hepatocytes is therefore described in detail in this paper. Methotrexate uptake is energy- and sodium-dependent. The Km and the Vmax are 23 microM and 36 pmol/mg protein min, respectively. The apparent activation energy (E(app)) of methotrexate uptake (5 microM [3H]methotrexate) is 53.73 kJ/mol, which indicates an energy-dependent carrier-mediated process. Although methotrexate is a folate derivative, folate itself does not inhibit methotrexate uptake, whereas the reduced folates, dihydrofolate and tetrahydrofolate are weak uncompetitive inhibitors. In contrast, the bile acids taurocholate and cholate are effective competitive inhibitors of methotrexate uptake into hepatocytes. Further strong inhibitors are the loop diuretic bumetanide, the mycotoxin ochratoxin A and bromosulfophthalein. Because tumor patients develop drug resistance during methotrexate therapy, the uptake of methotrexate was tested in different hepatoma cell lines. In HepG2-cells and Reuber hepatoma Fao-cells the transport was non-existent or very small. However, the hepatocytoma fusion cell line HPCT-1E3, a hybrid cell line between primary rat hepatocytes and rat Reuber Fao-cells, shows an intermediate transport activity with a threefold increase of the methotrexate uptake. These results indicate the presence of a bile acid sensitive methotrexate carrier in hepatocytes which is absent in dedifferentiated hepatoma cells. The carrier differs from previously described transporters for the uptake of organic anions.